Viewpoint: UI your way to success

Professor Steven Van Belleghem looks at the evolution of the user interface.

Today, user interfaces are playing an increasingly important role at every stage of the customer journey. From pre-sales, through sales and even into after-sales, processes are becoming more impressive and the evolution is moving fast.

User interfaces are evolving from complex to simple, and from automated to augmented. Every major technology platform is striving to make the lives of consumers as easy as possible, and many companies that dont have a digital DNA are being left behind.

From complex to simple
In the past, all interfaces were complex. Thinking back to the 1990s, to work with MS-DOS you needed to be a half-nerd, but today, technology has never been simpler. The iPhone was the first technology product that didn’t need to come with a help function or an inch-thick instruction manual, and it paved the way for wave after wave of devices that can now be picked up and used in minutes. Consumers today will usually give a new app 30 seconds to prove itself – if they dont understand it, it will be ditched.

In recent years, we have seen the arrival of the one-button interface, or apps that allow you to order anything, from a pizza to a car, with just a single press of a button. When the Tesla 3 was launched, the Tesla website also had a single button with a single large word: BUY. Simplicity has become the new norm in the second phase of digitalization.

Can a new mobile interface save a brand?
In March 2012, the Belgian bank Dexia changed its name to Belfius. The recent financial crisis meant that confidence in the brand was low, so it had to work hard to rebuild consumer trust.

Its mobile-first strategy was an important element in this process. While the majority still had their doubts about the bank, the first users of the Belfius mobile app soon became its most satisfied customers. This strengthened the resolve of the Belfius management to play the mobile-first card 100 per cent, and consequently, a benchmark report by McKinsey in 2016 concluded that Belfius was the fastest-growing player in the world in terms of mobile banking for its customers.

Today through the Belfius app you can apply for a credit card, have your card activated abroad and alter your credit limit, all with just a single click. This increased ease of use has led to a significant growth in Belfius credit cards sales, with one in three new credit cards now sold through the mobile channel, and an incredible 36 per cent of pensions set up through the app. The message is clear: mobile simplicity and real-time solutions lead to high levels of satisfaction and conversion.

From simple to automated
The next step – from ‘one-button’ to ‘zero-button’ – is even more interesting. When customers no longer need to do anything at all, expectations and behaviours will start to shift again.

Smart central heating systems and services to automatically rebook missed air flights are good examples of zero-button applications, but so too is the new Starbucks App. This allows customers to give their orders verbally, the bot sends the order though to the relevant shop and the coffee is ready when the customer walks through the door. Payment is made automatically and it is all done hands-free, without a single click involved.

And this is what todays consumers expect. In a world where time is their scarcest resource, every second counts – which makes this kind of interface worth its weight in gold.

Amazon Go is an offline retail experiment where everything works via automatic interfaces. The customer scans his Amazon app when they enter the store. He/she then selects the goods they want from the shelves, puts them into their bag and walks away. With no cash desk it almost feels like shoplifting, but payment is fully automatic. How it is done is has not yet been fully revealed, but the technology is not the most important thing. The impact on the customer is what really matters. And that impact is huge!

By removing all the aspects of shopping that people don’t like – queuing, paying, loading up carrier bags – Amazon Go could use mobile technology and their user interface to completely shift customer expectations. You dont need to be a management genius to work out what eliminating customers’ pain points can do for the turnover of a retailer, so anyone involved in mobile marketing should be thinking about the role smartphones and apps can play in the bigger picture of business strategy – in The Day After Tomorrow it could make the difference between survival and extinction for a brand.

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He’s is an award-winning author, and his new book, Customers The Day After Tomorrow, is out now. Follow him on Twitter @StevenVBe, or subscribe to his videos here.